Film Review: Fright Night (2011)

Fright Night is probably the most fun I've had at a horror film in theaters since Zombieland. It's the kind of film that's obviously playing to the horror fans. You laugh at the jokes, you jump at the scares, and you become surprisingly invested in the action of the final act. It's a near-perfect popcorn film drug down by a horrible decision to go 3D. Anton Yeltin (Charlie Bartlett) stars as Charley Brewster, a nervous former high school nerd dating one of the coolest girls in school. Everything he does is an attempt to maintain the modicum of popularity he earned through this relationship. This includes abandoning his best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad) who is trying to save his life. Ed has discovered that Charley's new neighbor Jerry (a fantastic Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire. The high school students and neighbors are disappearing household by household and Ed can't stop it alone. Too bad Charley doesn't try to help until Ed disappears, too.

Fright Night is very similar to the original 1985 film. The plot points, characters, and tone are nearly identical. Where the 2011 version succeeds is making all of this seem fresh and new. The pace is changed, the fight scenes are much more brutal, and the actors are all very clearly winking at the audience with their performances. It's intentional camp and it works.

What doesn't work are the 3D effects. There was absolutely no narrative reason to make this film 3D. The studio wasted a ton of money shooting this with actual 3D cameras because director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) thinks the only way to use the technology is to throw things at the camera. We've apparently jumped 60 years back in time to when state of the art 3D meant an actress hitting a paddle-ball at the camera. It's cheesy and distracting. By the time anything interesting is done with the technology--the visual of a slain vampire extra turning to ash actually feels immersive, horrifying, and hauntingly beautiful--it's too little too late. The whole thing would have worked better as a 2D film solely because all the things thrown at the camera would not have been shot like that.

Another big hiccup in the film is the CGI-enhanced make-up. When Colin Farrell is painted with actual make-up and prosthetic fangs into a believable vampire, it's fantastic. It looks like Jerry could be living in the real world as a vampire. Even the CGI used to darken his eyes and blue-out the veins in his neck before feeding is well-done. It's when the film decides it needs to digitally erase every human feature from Jerry's face and stretch it into some cartoonish demon that it just looks wrong. The original Fright Night accomplished this with prosthetics that had weight, depth, and believability. Here, the make-up is so outrageous and glossy that it draw attention to itself in a bad way. You're not watching a chase sequence; you're watching this unflinching mound of computer animation pretending to be menacing. It's a big misfire.

Where the film really takes off is in the fight and chase sequences. Gillespie captures a genuine sense of suspense and excitement when Jerry is hunting his prey. Together with Marti Nixon's screenplay, they play up vampire elements that have fallen to the wayside in recent years. Jerry can instantly teleport to any location he chooses to. He can't be seen in mirrors (or, in a nice twist, video camera footage) and he is terrified by the presence of natural light. He even has psychic powers that are used to great subtle effect throughout the feature. This is what you want in a vampire film. Under the right circumstances, Jerry cannot be beat. Throw him into one area with some holy water or an open window and he becomes a desperate killing machine fighting for his own survival.

If you like horror films, you have to see Fright Night in theaters. It's a film that demands a large audience of similarly-minded film-goers. You won't get quite the same effect at home, though I wouldn't rule out a future viewing on DVD, either. There's a lot going on that I'd like to look at again. It's old-fashioned vampire fun.

Rating: 7/10

So why haven't you seen Fright Night yet? Or did you see it and like it? Sound off below.

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